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April 4, 2016

National Poetry Month: Ghost Trick Villanelle


April is National Poetry Month here in America! To celebrate, I'm writing a new form poem every week. I'm trying forms I have not yet attempted in order to see how they work out. I think I'm also going to try to incorporate themes from my favorite video games into them as well. I feel like writers often sing the praises of their favorite books, but forget other mediums. The stories in video games are oftentimes just as well-crafted, deep, and moving as the most praise-worthy novel, so I want to use this month as a little shout-out to this oft-forgotten medium.

This week is a villanelle about one of my favorite video games, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. It's a little spoilery, so please DO NOT READ IT if you ever plan on playing this game.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ghost Trick

Go back in time and make it right,
or else, by morning, you'll be toast.
You can save a life tonight.

Your life was stolen in the night
and now you ask how you're supposed
to go back in time and make it right.

An undead soul, a shade, a wight,
can take an object as its host.
You can save a life tonight.

Reset the clock—begin to fight!
Save your friends and clear the coast.
Go back in time and make it right.

The mastermind has come to light:
a dangerously vengeful ghost.
You can save a life tonight.

Pity him, and heal the blight,
an old wound, undiagnosed.
Go back in time and make it right,
You can save a life tonight.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


This poem will make more sense if I explain a bit about the gameplay and premise of Ghost Trick. You begin the game waking up to find yourself dead and have to solve your own murder before sunrise, when you'll disappear. Part of the game mechanic is possessing objects and manipulating them (you can open doors, turn devices on and off, and so on.) Using this ability, you essentially build elaborate Rube Goldberg machines to move around and save people from dying. You see, another aspect of the game is that if you find a dead body, you can interact with that person's soul and travel back in time four minutes before their death (probably because "four" in Japanese is shi, which also means "death"). Using your possession and manipulation techniques, you try to prevent these deaths by dropping objects on assassins, coaxing people away from danger, retrieving people's life-saving medicine, and so on. It's a really entertaining puzzle game, with great music, a fun art style, and wastefully smooth animation. The story of solving your own murder mystery is full of wacky characters, twists and turns, and several totally mind blowing reveals. The ending was simply perfect, tying up all loose ends in a way that I didn't see coming. If you’ve played the game, I think you'll understand what I'm referring to in my poem; if not, please consider giving this game a shot.


So on to the poetry aspect… This week is a villanelle, which is a very repetitive 19-line poem with six stanzas of the rhyme form A1,B,A2   A,B,A1   A,B,A2   A,B,A1  A,B,A2   A,B,A1,A2. All A lines rhyme, and B lines have a separate rhyme, and the A1 and A2 lines are repeated in their entirety in every stanza. Some famous examples are Sylvia Plath's “Mad Girl’s Love Song” and Dylan Thomas' “Do not go gentle into that good night”. I chose to do a Ghost Trick villanelle because the repetition of this form reminded me of the reset/time-travel aspect of the game. There is also a line during the start of the game about how you may be able to “save more than one life tonight” (or something along those lines), which became a really important theme at the climax of the story. That being said, after writing one, I found that I don't care for villanelles. I really dig the repeating lines, but wish that the middle lines (the B lines) didn't need to rhyme; I don't care for the sound of it. At least it was a fun experiment.

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